Wednesday, 10 October 2012

How on earth do the others manage?

It’s the Swedes that I feel sorry for.  And the Danes, and the Norwegians, and the Portuguese, and the … well about half the peoples of the world, to be honest.  After all, they don’t have the ‘failsafe’ mechanism which the House of Lords provides the UK, and which Wales is sadly lacking, according to our former Secretary of State. 

I’m not sure that I’d describe their lordships as a failsafe, and I doubt that anyone else has ever called them that before, but that’s perhaps an aside.  The point which Gillan was making is that the UK Government has an unelected second chamber to obstruct and delay improve on the work of elected representatives and the Assembly doesn’t, which means that there are apparently no checks and balances.
But having a second chamber to revise what the first chamber does at the behest of the government and its whips is not the natural order of things to the extent that she and those who think like her would suggest.  Around half of the world’s legislatures manage perfectly well with a single chamber, and if the House of Lords didn’t exist, it’s hard to believe that anyone in their right minds would actually sit down and invent it.
And having legislation whipped through by the majority party at the behest of the government without proper scrutiny and debate isn’t something unique to the Assembly – indeed, to the extent that it is a problem in Cardiff it’s because the system was designed and implemented by another parliament which operates in precisely that way, aided and abetted by AMs who see aping Westminster as being what a proper parliament is all about.
But my real objection to what she’s saying is that putting a second set of processes and procedures – to say nothing of a second set of politicians – in place to deal with the failings of the first lot is avoiding tackling the real issue – i.e., why the first set isn’t working properly in the first place.  The Tories are usually quite big on pointing to the private sector as an exemplar for most things; but any private organisation which put a whole second set of people in place to correct the problems caused by the first lot rather than resolving the core problem wouldn’t be in business for long.
The problem that she and those who think like her face, however, is that if they admit that the problems can be fixed in one place, it might just lead people to think that they could be fixed elsewhere.  So duplicate what Westminster does, and hope that no-one notices how anachronistic the system is, and how well the rest of the world manages without it.  Abolition of the Lords, anyone?


Cibwr said...

I have no problem with a properly constituted second chamber, and Norway and Iceland used to do it by dividing the representatives into two houses, by lot, thus creating an extra stage in scrutiny, both abolished it as being a duplication. There are issues of scrutiny but they can be resolved by better processes and having more backbench AMs

Anonymous said...

By the looks of things the UK Government is using the Supreme Court as a second chamber!

But seriously, I sense in Cheryl Gillan's comments some sour grapes. She of course has no democratic link to devolution whatsoever and in office was consistently frustrated that "they keep asking for more powers and more money", having no understanding of the Holtham Commission or recent constitutional politics in Wales generally.

Nigel Bull said...


You point to the private sector for some inferred, accepted, guidance on efficiency. There have been many issues raised in this country as to the lack of good corporate governance after many instances of misuse of power (nothing new there then!). Cadbury was one of the results. This report pointed to the importance of strong non-execs without a vested interest. It's often avoided and boards packed with puppets who vote to order. Think of Fred Goodwin, RBOS, another parallel with the assembly and perhaps North Korea too. Attempts to veto exec pay this year have shown just how unbalanced is the system still is, so perhaps much to learn if striving at least for utopian standards.

In Germany the system is of a Management Board to run companies and a Supervisory Board (with worker representation too) to keep the excess's in check and to provide scrutiny. Given the relative performance of the economies, there might be much to offer GB.

Given the dire performance of the opposition parties in Wales over the years, this as much as the mistakes of the ruling party must take the blame for the mess we are in now. (I cannot remember any politicians going on hunger strike over the obvious waste of Rhodri's baby the Techniums and now, just for good measure, the father, Drakeford on the back of the success is an AM!)

In the end it all comes down basic human traits - Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
This together with a desire for small government must be balanced when looking how to structure the bay and Westminster too as an entity.

For myself a small(say 100 max), number of working lords elected by PR who have never been MP's or in government is the way forward. For Cardiff, get rid of the dead wood and list AM's could perform a similar role too.

These issues are fundamental for success and until they are addressed further power for the people of Wales rather than the politicians of Wales is a pipe dream.